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and how I am sure like never before

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When a ship lands in the Fields of Glass below the Sundial, Osiris is far afield, mentally shadowing one of his Echoes as it traverses the corridors of time.

He wonders if the Flayers have seen this; this endless nothing. They want to change the outcome of the Red War, but do they know the singularity to which their actions are leading? Or is this not the work of the Cabal at all? Is there some other force at work, slipping into all the cracks and shadowed spaces the Cabal have created in Mercury’s timestream with their meddling, manipulating the circumstances to its own apocalyptic ends? If so, who or what is it? Not the Vex: Osiris has seen the future the Vex wanted - want - to create and for all of its dire implications, it was a future.

(Someone is ascending the rise to the Sundial. He dismisses it. The Guardian knows enough to activate the Sundial on their own now, and knows better than to disturb him when he’s like this either way.)

This is no future. Not for humanity; not for anyone, least of all the Vex. This is an apocalypse so complete he cannot fathom it, destruction from the macroscopic to the microscopic and of everything in between. Osiris has sent hundreds of Echoes into the Corridors between the past and the present and this singular future, seeking an edge, a fulcrum; the pocket of parameter space that leads to a different end. To a future - any future.

(Someone destroys the Colossus that lurks at the gate to Mercury’s present in a rush of Void light. It will reappear shortly; it always does. The Void is surprising, though; he can count on one hand the number of times he has seen the Guardian utilize Void and have fingers to spare.)

If such a future exists he and his Echoes haven’t found it yet, nor have they unravelled the tipping point. Even with the Guardian doing their best to suppress the Red Legion in every timeline they can reach through the Sundial, with each day that passes with no change, Osiris can feel the weight on his shoulders grow.

(Someone pauses at the gate to the Sundial, surveying the scene. They hesitate, but then resolve steels their shoulders and they step through. Distantly, he feels Sagira’s surprise and then a tug at his connection with her.

Osiris - )

He ignores her as he and the Echo catalog yet another path that leads to nowhere. They enter another nexus, and from the middle of it, they can see that every path leads to more of the same. To that terrible emptiness.

Osiris and his Echoes’ shoulders tighten. They refuse to accept this future.

(Osiris! It’s - )

They refuse to accept that they may have rescued Saint-14 only to lose him again, along with everyone

(Osiris, for the Traveler’s sake -

- Not now, Sagira -

and everything else.

- come back - )

With a burst of irritation Osiris withdraws just slightly from the Echo and turns his attention towards his Ghost.

Sagira, what is so -

He doesn’t get any further than that, as the presence standing in the Sundial registers like a Daybreak to the chest.

Saint.

Saint? the Echo he is still connected to repeats. The thought reverberates through the network of Echoes spread through the Corridors like a stone dropped in a pool of water. His mind swells with the crescendo of their emotions as it ripples outwards, mingling with and amplifying his own - shock; joy; guilt; fear; more, until finally it threatens to overwhelm him and he is forced to withdraw from the network entirely.

He hasn’t done that in a long time. It’s more difficult than he anticipated. Osiris is used to being a multitude, a plurality; used to being, on some level, everywhere and everywhen that his Echoes are. It’s unsettling to silence those connections so abruptly, to draw all the scattered pieces of his attention and consciousness back into himself until it’s just him and his own thoughts in his skull. The silence rings. He forces down the sickening paranoia that tries to surge its way up his throat, the neverending flood of probabilities and possibilities that whisper this is an indulgence you cannot afford.

His Echoes are more than capable of continuing their efforts without him. Osiris has no cause to doubt them. Or rather, to doubt them is to doubt himself, and he cannot afford that either.

He starts when he feels the touch of a mind to his and moves to close the errant link, but it’s not an Echo; only Sagira.

Well, here we are, finally, she thinks. I’d wondered when he would get fed up. I know it strains your capabilities, but do try not to be an idiot, Osiris.

She’s gone before he can muster a retort. He is almost certain that she is off to find Geppetto and retreat to watch whatever this is unfold: she’s made her opinion of his avoidance of Saint over the past month clear many times.

He breathes out the irritation and takes a moment to adjust to the feeling of being singular in his own skin. Even filtered through his eyelids, the sunlight from the present Mercury he is facing, where Saint has come from, is uncomfortably bright. He’s hyper-aware of his body, his clothes, the gritty sand that has crept between cloth and skin. His head hurts and there’s a tight, singing tension making itself loudly known in his neck and shoulders.

All of it, though, pales in comparison to the feeling of Saint’s Light. It washes over him, bright and fierce as a nova, as familiar to him as his own. Something in his chest eases even as a knot of grief and guilt and apprehension clogs his throat.

Saint hasn’t said anything yet, evidently unaware that Osiris is aware of him. He is likely debating whether it is worth it to try and interrupt him, knowing that Osiris had - has - always had very little patience for interruptions to his work. Osiris almost wants to take advantage of the hesitation, to feign his mental absence until Saint leaves; to put this reunion off as long as he can.

He recalls the message relayed to him by the Guardian; that whenever Osiris was ready, Saint would be waiting. Osiris is nowhere near ready, but Saint is apparently tired of waiting. He isn’t sure he wants to know why. His own cowardice sickens him; but then, he’s used to that, when it comes to Saint.

But behind closed eyes Osiris finds that all he can see, all he can think about, is that empty, futureless void. He thinks of what he would have given, only a short while ago, to be here; of all the lifetimes spent searching for a future where this moment could be possible.

It’s terrifying, but there are a great many things Osiris owes to Saint-14. More than he can count. To face this moment, whatever it may bring, is one of the least of them.

Osiris opens his eyes. Saint is standing in front of him. He is looking in the direction of the desolate, burned out landscape and murky skies that are the Vex’s preferred future. The one he died in, Osiris notes with a pang. Would have died in.

But because of this, Saint still hasn’t noticed Osiris is fully present once more. Osiris can’t help but take the chance to stare at him for a long moment without saying anything, drinking in the sight of his living friend.

He had seen him once, from afar, on the day he emerged from the Forest. Now, though, Saint is close enough to touch and Osiris finds, to more relief than he cares to admit, that he is...much the same. Someone has clearly introduced him to the marvels of modern armor, but the difference is more in the materials and the technology than the appearance. His lavender ribbons hang in the still air of the Sundial, many more than when Osiris saw him last. The familiar pommeled helmet is tucked under his arm. Osiris notes a few new scuffs and scars as his eyes trace the lines of his face.

Then Saint turns. His eyes find Osiris’s and -

- and Osiris doesn’t want to admit it, but some part of him had doubted. In this moment, though, that doubt burns away. He would know those eyes anywhere.

This is utterly, impossibly, undeniably Saint.

Looking at the play of emotions across Saint’s face as he looks at Osiris is unexpectedly like looking in a mirror. Relief; happiness; sorrow. Saint was always one of the most expressive Exos Osiris knew - knows - but even still, Osiris takes a moment to wonder and ache at how easily he can still read him.

He’s been staring long enough, though. Osiris finally raises his hands to dismiss the Sundial interfaces floating around him, leaving them alone with nothing between them except space and unnumbered years.

“...Saint,” Osiris says at length.

“...Osiris,” Saint says, after a similarly long pause. He is very quiet as he says it, quiet and still; like Osiris is one of the birds he loved - loves - so much and he will scare him away by speaking his name too loud.

It is the first time Osiris has heard Saint speak his name in centuries.

Osiris swallows heavily around a well of grief. “It’s...good to see you, my friend,” he manages to say. It’s a vast understatement. And yet, Osiris watches as tension drains out of Saint’s shoulders that he didn’t even realize was there until it’s gone.

“You as well, my friend,” Saint says in return, and he calls Osiris his friend like one would call the sky blue, like one would say something that they know is true; has always been true.

Osiris had never stopped considering Saint his friend. He hadn’t realized until now how much he dreaded that the reverse wasn’t true, as much as he would have understood it.

Osiris clears his throat. “...how are you faring? How is the City?” he asks, gruff and slightly awkward. There are...many other things that he should say. With Saint in front of him, though, all the words he wanted to say, planned to say over days and weeks and years, seem utterly inadequate. He crosses his arms in lieu of summoning a Vex cube; too obvious a tell of his discomfort.

Saint, thankfully, takes up the thread easily. He hums thoughtfully. “I am doing rather well, all things considered, I think,” he says, straightening. “There have been...many people to catch up with. Many things to learn. Many things to see. The City is beautiful, Osiris,” he says, eyes brightening. His voice turns wondering, almost reverent. “Even after what the Guardian showed me...I did not think it would be this beautiful. Could be this beautiful.”

“I am glad that it lives up to your vision,” Osiris says, sincere. “...As little a hand as I ultimately played in that,” he adds.

Saint tips his head to one side. “Yes, I have...spoken with Ikora. She has grown much in my absence,” he says, with another trace of that wonder, and Osiris can’t help the flash of pride. Of all the choices he ever made that he now regrets, recommending Ikora for the position of Warlock Vanguard in the wake of his exile was never one of them. “Have you truly been alone in the Forest all this time, Osiris?” Saint asks.

He sounds sad about it, and the pride fades to be replaced by irritation. “What reason would I have to be elsewhere? The Vex have not stopped being a threat, and now there is this.”

Osiris gestures at the fragmented world around the Sundial. A Cabal landing pod crashes to the ground just outside the main gate as he does, disgorging a Red Legion squad armed to the teeth. They cast menacing looks in Saint and Osiris’s directions, but their attention is soon drawn by a Vex Hydra firing on them. “Furthermore, I am still exiled from the City, as well you know, or should by now,” he says, just slightly sharp.

Saint sighs, his vocoder flashing violet. “I know,” he says. “I had long since given up hope for true reconciliation between you and...and my Father,” he adds, and the stumble tells Osiris he has found out what happened to the Speaker. “But until what would have been my dying day -”

Osiris does his best to hide his flinch.

“ - I had hope that one day you might see that your goals were not mutually exclusive,” Saint continues. “He never truly disagreed with you, Osiris, that we needed to take a longer view of potential threats if our fledgling City was not only to survive, but to thrive. Nor did I. But your methods would have torn us asunder and left us vulnerable to those very threats. We cannot fight them divided. Nor can we fight them alone.” He looks pointedly at Osiris, and though it is him speaking it is the Speaker that he hears.

“And yet,” Osiris interjects. “The fact remains that no matter how many times your father promised there would come a time that we would work together, proactively, against threats, rather than just reacting to them, I never saw it.”

He shakes his head. “I never wanted to do this alone, Saint. But you, the Speaker, the Vanguard, the Consensus - “ Osiris cannot help but spit the word Consensus like a foul thing. “You hardly gave me a choice, even before you exiled me. Someone had to act. That I had and continue to do so alone is not a reflection on me. Do you know what I would have given - ”

He cuts himself off before he can finish that sentence. It won’t be productive, and it strays too close to topics he’d rather avoid. Nevertheless, it hangs between them. After a moment Saint sighs again, heavier than before.

“Enough,” he says, raising a hand placatingly as he leans to place his helmet on the ground beside him. “Enough. I did not come here to fight with you about the past, Osiris. Truly,” Saint adds, when he sees the skeptical expression on Osiris’s face.

“Fine. Why are you here then, Saint?” Osiris asks with weary exasperation.

Saint is quiet for a long moment. When he speaks again it is slow, like he is picking his words with care; like he is stepping into a minefield. It makes Osiris’s stomach sink. “Because I cannot watch you run from me a second time, my friend,” he says.

It takes a moment for the words to register. When they do, they hit like a blow. To Osiris’s shame, his first instinct is to feign ignorance. “I don’t take your meaning,” he says. The lie sits heavy on his tongue.

Saint snorts derisively. “Do not play the fool, Osiris,” he says. “It has never suited you.”

Osiris is silent at that. “Did the Guardian tell you?” he asks eventually, which is an admission in and of itself. It’s more resigned than angry.

Saint shakes his head. “They told me nothing; they did not need to tell me, Osiris. You are not so mysterious as you would like to think. I know you.”

The present tense slips a knife between Osiris’s ribs, for more reasons than one. “I - “ he tries to say and then stops. Swallows. “It was - different, before,” he manages.

“How do you mean?” Saint asks, gentler than Osiris expected given the topic. He would have avoided it forever, if he could. Finding the words now is like pulling teeth. Saint waits. He can have the patience of his namesake, when he wants to.

He’s here. He knows, but he’s here, nonetheless. That has to count for something. You owe him the truth, at least.

“...I didn’t want to see you, at first,” Osiris says, finally. “You did not come to help me, Saint; you came to try to convince me of the so-called error of my ways.”

Saint, to his credit, does not deny this, though it looks like he may want to deny the “so-called” part. Osiris continues before he can.

“I knew I would only end up in the same arguments with you as I had with your father, and there was too much else that needed to be done. I thought to let you wander the Forest for a time. Let you see how the Vex operate on their own terms. Then perhaps you would see what I saw. Then perhaps you would understand. Then perhaps, finally, we could reconcile, and face this threat, together.”

Osiris pauses. “But I got...distracted,” he says, repeating the words he said to the Guardian with a bitter twist to his mouth. “Every time I thought to seek you out, a more immediate concern presented itself. I put it off, certain that there would be time eventually.” He swallows. “But there never was. Until there was no more time, regardless.”

Saint is silent for a long moment. Osiris opens his mouth to speak again. To explain further, to apologize, or to beg forgiveness, he doesn’t know. In any case, Saint holds up a hand to stop him. His gaze, until now fixed on Osiris, shifts; to the Sundial behind him, Osiris realizes.

“The Guardian said that you built this contraption to...find me,” Saint says, tone inscrutable.

“The Sundial. I...yes. I did,” Osiris admits and turns to face it himself. The arms spin slowly, almost lazily in their deactivated state, flashing occasionally in the sunlight. The main spire stretches high above them. A monument to his own hubris, he supposes it will become, after he fixes this. If he fixes this. “When you vanished, I searched for you for...many years. Even before the Guardian found you the first time, though, I...I already knew, in my heart of hearts, that you were dead. But still, I found there was a difference between knowing and knowing.”

As well as a difference between knowing, and knowing that it was his fault. Osiris swallows again and keeps his gaze on the spire as he continues to speak.

“After you vanished, I watched the City from afar, watched it grow into your vision in fits and starts. I wanted to feel joy, but found that I couldn’t. What was any of it worth, if you could not be there to see it? You, who had believed in this brighter future more than anyone?”

“Osiris - “

“People looked up to you, Saint,” Osiris says, turning to face him again. “You call that Guardian your inspiration, but do you forget how many people you inspired?” He waves a hand at the ribbons hanging from Saint’s armor. He pauses.

“One of those is mine, you know,” he says, quiet. Saint blinks and looks down at his ribbons, confused.

“I don’t remember - “ he starts.

“You wouldn’t,” Osiris interrupts. “You were asleep. It was after a battle. I don’t remember which - “

He remembers that he was in a dozen places and it still was not going to be enough. He remembers the way the wildfire of determination in his chest was guttering in the growing winds of despair, even as he fed it with ever more desperation. And he remembers that just when he thought to give up, Saint was there. As he had been there so many times before, and would be so many times after. They won that battle, and that night Osiris tied on the ribbon; really a scrap of cloth torn from a robe due to be recycled for glimmer, but it was all he had. He was too embarrassed to admit to it in the morning.

The point is, even then, Osiris knew what he owed.

“- but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there were times I could scarcely believe the City you seemed to see so clearly could ever be a reality,” Osiris says. “Even when the first wall went up, even when people finally started to stop looking over their shoulders at every turn, there were days it seemed impossible. But I believed if anyone could do it, it would be you, my friend. And I could not bear knowing that I had deprived you of the chance to walk that path to the very end. So I built this. To find the moment of your death. To prevent it.”

“My life is not worth more than anyone else’s, Osiris!” Saint says, sounding aggrieved. Osiris jerks as Saint reaches out to grab him by the shoulder with one hand, almost tight enough to bruise. “I am not worth that much. I - I am not worth - this,” Saint says emphatically and gestures widely enough with his other hand to encompass the Sundial and everything outside of it.

Osiris can’t help but laugh; short, bitter. “It’s not your place to decide what you’re worth to other people, Saint.”

And Saint - Saint apparently doesn’t know what to say to that. He lets go of Osiris’s shoulder and after a moment looks down at the ribbons hanging from his greaves again. Osiris looks up at the Sundial spinning above his head.

“It doesn’t matter, anyway,” he says eventually. “It didn’t work. Thousands of Echoes, thousands of timelines. Lifetimes spent searching, and I could not find you. You can thank the Guardian for that. And the Cabal, I suppose.”

He does his best to keep the bitterness from his voice when he says that, but he isn’t sure he succeeds.

Saint sighs, sounding resigned. “I did,” he says. “Thank the Guardian, I mean. I don’t think I’ll be thanking the Cabal anytime soon,” he adds, with a trace of humor that quickly dies when Osiris refuses to look at him. He takes a step closer to Osiris.

“It does not matter who found me,” he says eventually. “Now I am here. And you, my friend, are still running.”

“I’ve been here the entire time, Saint,“ Osiris says, finally looking back at him. “You have a strange definition of running.”

“What do you call it then, Osiris?”

“May I be allowed to remind you of the temporal crisis happening just outside?“ Osiris says in lieu of answering the question.

“Isn’t there always a crisis, Osiris? If it is not this one it will be another, and if there is not an immediate crisis, then it will be the Vex. It is always the Vex, with you.”

“In case you’ve forgotten, the Vex killed you, Saint,” Osiris says, sharp.

“And they paid dearly for it,” Saint retorts. “I made sure of it.” There is something darkly satisfied about that. He pauses then, looking up at the Sundial as Osiris did, and at the sky beyond. “In the moments before I was meant to die, before my Guardian arrived, Osiris, I...grieved,” he says eventually. “The Martyr Mind was dead, but defeating it cost me everything. I knew that I would die there, Lightless. Alone.”

Saint says all this in a hush, as though he is imparting a secret. Osiris cannot help but imagine the scene he paints, and aches.

(He never could bring himself to visit Saint’s final resting place, and in this moment, that is a mercy.)

“I would not live to see my Guardian’s City,” Saint continues. “I would not live to see the sun setting behind the towers, or the birds coming home to roost in the spring, or children laughing and playing in the streets, unafraid. I would not live to see you or Father or anyone else ever again. All the things I had never said, because I assumed I would have time to say them, would go unsaid. You know,” he says, looking back at Osiris. “In the end, there was a moment that I almost pitied the Martyr Mind.” He sees the look on Osiris’s face and snorts. “I don’t think it’s so strange, my friend. What else were we both doing, except dying for the sake of a future we would never see?”

“...What are you trying to say, Saint?” Osiris finally asks, quiet. Saint sighs and the sound is exhausted, exasperated.

“I am saying,” Saint says, and steps closer, trapping Osiris between the Sundial and himself. “That I was willing to give you time and space, Osiris, but - I have been talking to the Guardian. About the war. About the things we have lost that we cannot regain and how easy it was, is, to take them for granted. I am saying,” and here Saint reaches up to jab a finger against Osiris’s chest. “That against all odds, I, we have been given another chance, and I refuse to allow you to waste it, Osiris, because you have convinced yourself you do not deserve it. Because you feel guilty. Because you are afraid of facing me!”

Furious grief lights the base of Osiris’s throat and he speaks before he can think. “You know nothing about what I am afraid of, Saint!” he snaps, and gets the split second satisfaction of making Saint take a step backwards in surprise.

“Do you understand what is in the Infinite Forest right now? Did the Guardian tell you that?” Osiris demands. He doesn’t wait for a response before he barrels on. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Every path, every future, every solution to the equation that the Vex, that I, can see, is the same. I am not afraid of you, Saint, I am afraid for you. For us. I stole your chance to build this future with your own hands and now - now in trying to rectify that, I am afraid that I have brought you back only to witness its destruction.”

Osiris pauses to take a breath. Behind Saint, the golden fields of a fractured future blow in an unheard wind, deceptive in their tranquility. They used to haunt his nightmares. Lately, though, all he dreams of is emptiness. When he sleeps, at least. It is hardly a refuge, and there is always too much to be done.

He tears his gaze away. “But do you know what the worst part is, Saint?” he asks. He watches Saint shake his head and swallows. These are the things Osiris did not want to say, but it’s too late. The dam is broken; the words are clamoring behind his teeth, and he doesn’t know how to stop. “I can’t not fix this. The Cabal must be stopped. Mercury’s timeline must be fixed. There is no other option. But despite this, despite knowing what awaits us if I fail to stop this, despite knowing what brink my selfishness and my mistakes have brought us to, the fear that paralyzes me is not that I might fail, but that if I succeed, what will happen to you?”

Saint blinks at him, uncomprehending. This is clearly not the answer he expected. “What do you mean?” he asks. He steps back in close when Osiris doesn’t immediately answer. “Osiris. What does that mean?”

“It means,” Osiris says, and then has to stop for a moment to put the words in order. He drags a hand down his face as he takes a ragged breath, dislodging his cowl. “It means that I tried to find the moment of your death for centuries, Saint,” he says, exhausted. “I don’t know what finally allowed us to find it, to save you. If we stop the Cabal, will it undo it? Would we be able to find it again if so, or was finding it at all an accidental consequence of the Cabal’s actions? I’m doing everything I can to stabilize the timeline as we have made it, but I don’t - I can’t - ” Osiris breaks off. “I can’t lose you, Saint,” he whispers. “Not again. But I’m terrified that I won’t be able to stop it either way.”

There it is, out in the open. The shadow that dogs his footsteps through every Corridor he and his Echoes map. The claws that dig into his chest and keep him awake long into every night, running simulation after simulation.

This is the thing: he could have borne it, if the Guardian had failed to save Saint. It would have almost been a relief, in fact, to know that even they could not accomplish it. It would have been a kind of closure, to know that Saint simply wasn’t meant to be saved. Osiris could have lived with his mistakes: he had done so for centuries.

He doesn’t know how to live with the knowledge that he could have saved Saint, only to lose him to his own mistakes again.

Saint, for his part, is silent. Osiris ducks his head to try and regain some composure. His dignity is a lost cause. He stares at the floor of the Sundial, feeling the vibration of the energy swirling beneath his feet. It feels like there’s a vice around his chest. He’s so tired.

He isn’t really sure what he’s expecting from Saint, but it’s not the touch of cool metal fingertips against his face, feather light. He sucks in a breath. After a moment the fingers slide to his jaw and lift, tipping Osiris’s face slowly, gently upward until he is looking Saint in the eye. And the look on his face -

“Oh, my friend,” Saint whispers. It is so sad, so compassionate, so unbearably tender, and against his will, Osiris feels his eyes sting. “This is what you have been carrying all this time? This is why you have stayed away?”

Osiris hesitates, and then glances away and nods minutely.

“Why? Why not tell me?” Saint asks. It’s not an accusation or a demand. Only a question; earnest, gentle. Osiris closes his eyes in the face of it.

“I’ve failed you so badly, my friend,” he says softly. “I couldn’t face you knowing I can’t guarantee it won’t happen again. Besides, you had - have - enough to deal with. I could not put this burden on your shoulders also, especially when it could turn out to be for nothing.”

Saint sighs. “Let me decide what burdens I can bear, my friend,” he says. “It does neither of us any favors if I do not have all the facts. You do not have to do this alone.”

“I’m hardly alone, Saint,” Osiris says, opening his eyes again. “I put your favorite Guardian on the case, didn’t I?”

“But do they know about this?” Saint asks pointedly. “About your concerns.”

Osiris grimaces. “Not in so many words, no,” he says. “But they’re intelligent; I am sure the possibility has occurred to them.”

“You should tell them. The more minds that turn to the problem, if it is a problem, the easier it will be to solve,” Saint says.

“...How can you be so certain that we will?” Osiris asks, soft.

“I have faith in your abilities, my friend,” Saint says, his hand sliding down to clasp Osiris’s shoulder. “Yours and my Guardian’s. You will stop the Cabal and prevent that terrible future. And if there is a way to do it and also allow me to stay in this future, you will find it. But if there isn’t -

“Saint - “

Saint speaks over him. “If there isn’t,” he repeats, looking Osiris in the eye. “I will accept it. And I will forgive you. I do forgive you.”

He says it the same way he called Osiris his friend. Like something that has never been in doubt. Osiris feels his eyes sting again and blinks hard, trying to stave the feeling off. “I don’t deserve your faith,” he says, quiet, casting his gaze downward again. “Or your forgiveness.”

“But you have them,” Saint says without hesitation. “You never lost them.” He pauses for a moment. When he speaks again, it is impossibly gentle. “Osiris. Will you look at me?”

With great reluctance, Osiris looks up and immediately finds himself caught, as Saint leans in to press their foreheads together. His one hand finds Osiris’s face again, cupping his cheek. His thumb sweeps over it, over the shadows and the lines beneath his eyes. It finds the traces of wetness in the corners and brushes that away too. His other hand finds one of Osiris’s and tugs it up to press it flat against Saint’s chest, just over where his heart would be, if he were human.

Osiris looks down at their hands. Exos were constructed so that their systems mirrored those with similar functions in humans as closely as possible, to reduce the risk of rejection by the uploaded consciousness. Osiris knows that what is beneath his hand is a nexus of circuitry and cables and delicate machinery not very unlike a heart. He can feel the steady thrum of it, hear the faint whir of servos. He can feel the faint, idiosyncratic rise and fall of Saint’s chest, another echo of biological function. He can feel the warmth of Saint’s hands, on his face and pressed against the back of his own, thumb rubbing in small circles.

Osiris feels all of this, all of these small, undeniable signs of life, and finds himself filled with an almost unspeakable gratitude, as well as a burning resolve.

“I am here,” Saint murmurs into the scant space between them, pulling Osiris’s gaze back to his face. “This is real. I am real.” Distantly Osiris wonders how long it took Saint to convince himself of those facts. “I do not know what the future will bring, but if you think I will let you continue to face it alone while I have the ability to stand beside you, Osiris, you really are a fool. So,” he finishes, drawing back a little to look at Osiris. “What do you say, my friend? Shall we fight for this future together again?”

This close, Osiris almost imagines that he can see the circuitry of Saint’s eyes, Void violet and impossibly bright. And In this moment, he finds he does not think of a future where they are dull and dead. He does not think of an empty void.

Instead, he thinks of the candle he lit the night Saint returned; the way it shone, an unwavering beacon in the encroaching dark. The way it continues to shine in his dreams, a little brighter each night.

For the first time in many years Osiris thinks of the future, and he is not so afraid.

“Alright,” he says at last. “Alright.”